Some things might sound like a good idea at first—but then quickly, they do not. For instance, a can of Coca-Cola that tastes like Pepsi, or a Harley Davidson Perfume to add the right amount of biker smell. How about an electric face mask? Anyone? Let's face it, some ideas were never good to begin with.
The Museum of Failure, which opened in Helsingborg, Sweden early this month, isn't all about these not-quite ideas. Instead, the quirky museum wants you to look at those so-called "epic fails" and learn from them. We all know only practice makes perfect, despite the dazzling and constant success stories disseminated every day. It's exactly those stories that Dr. Samuel West, creativity researcher in the Department of Psychology at Lund University and curator of the museum, was sick of hearing when he started collecting items that didn't quite make it onto the list of history's best innovations. After all, most innovative projects do fail, and it's only learning from them can inventors turn their failure into successes.
By curating the show, Dr. West wants visitors to see failure as an essential part of innovation rather than an embarrassment. Instead of embracing failure and learning from it, he says, many companies pretend it never happened.
Colgate, for example, apparently doesn't seem to have any recollection at all of their 1980s frozen dinner series. To be fair, Colgate's frozen lasagna probably did not sound much more appealing to shoppers 30 years ago than it would today. But innovations fail for different reasons, be it poor design or just clumsy advertising. Nokia's N-Gage, a cross between a phone and a hand-held video game console, could have been the precursor of the modern smartphone, but its taco-shaped design just didn't cut it for the consumer, as much as BiC didn't quite have its finger on the pulse with their pens exclusively made for women.
However, other failed ideas made way for truly revolutionary innovations, like the little-remembered Apple Newton. Its handwriting recognition function was a flop, but inevitably led directly to the invention of the iPod and the iPhone, two instruments that forever changed the way we communicate today. West explains to Creators that it is failures like these that provide stories we can learn most from. We inquired if perhaps some of these failed products may have been ahead of their time, to which West responded, "they misjudged the market or usefulness of their product at the time." He continues, "Being ahead of your time is a failure if you do not learn from it and continue to develop the product."
West's museum has a clear intention to educate individuals and companies to embrace their failures as drivers of innovation and therefore, be more transparent about them. "Companies need to get over themselves. Brand Managers need to chill a bit. Failure humanizes companies and brands. We don't judge individuals (and brands) for failing, but we hate it when they do not own up to their faults."
It's refreshing to see that not all bright ideas flourished to eternal fame. Even though a little schadenfreude shall be allowed, it is more important to see them in the light of our own failures and learn how to turn them into success. A point the inventor of the Trump board game (exuberantly declaring "I'm back and you're fired!") may have been well-advised to take into consideration.
The Museum of Failure opened June 7th in Helsingborg, Sweden, and will hold an event series of failed gourmet tastings, concerts of failed music, and "fuck-up talks."
The museum will host pop-up exhibitions in New York City, as well as at Art Basel in Miami later this year. Find more information about the show, here.